NEWBURYPORT — Pretzel dribbles and ribbon ricochets might sound like new additions to the Richdale’s candy counter, but they’re actually code words for a couple of sweet moves to be performed by this year’s Francis T. Bresnahan Teams of Tomorrow (TOT) basketball demonstration team.
Under the leadership of physical education teacher and local program originator Catherine Hill, 75 third-graders will demonstrate dribbling and ball handling skills in a synchronized routine set to music during three public shows this season, including a March 29 half-time performance at the Harlem Globetrotters game at TD Garden.
Two local shows are scheduled for Friday at the high school girls varsity basketball game and Tuesday at the boys varsity basketball game.
The pressure is on for this, the largest TOT team in the program’s 13-year history, but with the help of assistant coach Maureen Gilbert, who has seen three sons through the program, Hill said the students will be ready.
All month, TOT students have been meeting before school on Tuesdays and Thursdays for one hour of practice, a schedule that allows them to balance the program with afterschool activities. “It also gets them some exercise and gets their brains going before class,” Hill said.
The students race in, drop their coats and backpacks, pick up a signature TOT basketball and take their places on the court for floor drills, dribbling skills and ball-handling tricks.
In 2002, when Hill first discovered TOT, a national initiative to provide students with creative movement while building self-esteem, she immediately recognized that it dovetailed with the Newburyport elementary physical education curriculum. Today, all third-graders practice similar skills in class in the four weeks leading up to TOT, and then each is invited to register for the team. This year, all 75 spots were filled in two days.
“The program is a wonderful way for students to continue to learn and practice dribbling and ball handling without the focus on shooting, which is an added bonus because students strictly practice becoming comfortable with the ball,” Hill said.
Performing as a group also means less pressure on the individual.
“I think students love the chance to perform and be part of a team without all the pressures of scoring and playing a game,” Hill said. “They feel proud of the fact that they can learn some pretty amazing skills, and when they practice them they see their efforts pay off.”
Susan Acquaviva is mom to two former TOT players, and credits the program with giving her children confidence and treasured memories. Her daughter, Caroline, now 18, performed at a Celtics game in 2007, and her son, Will, 10, performed last year at TD Garden during the Globetrotters show.
“More than anything, TOT ends up proving to the kids that they have what it takes to be dedicated and stay dedicated to something that is bigger than them,” she said.
“To be part of such a large group and to have a leader like Cathy, who is demanding yet so kind and fair at the same time, just doesn’t happen often. Every single thing that she does with her students is done because she truly wants to make them better people who can then go out and make a difference in our world.”